When the American Presidential election campaign got underway in 2015, it was unfolding as a 2008 Bangladesh-style poll, a battle of the begums, the dynastic war of Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, before Zia’s 2014 election boycott. It was assumed that the 2016 election similarly would be a clash of the Clinton and Bush dynasties, Hillary versus Jeb.
But last week Donald Trump became the 45th president of the United States.
What happened? US politics entered another time warp. The 2015 certitude of a Clinton-Bush match-up got derailed and in 2016 the US ended up like India of 2014 with a war of attrition between a dynasty and an upstart politician, with his populist, incendiary style. An outsider.
The Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump race in the US began to look a lot like Gandhi dynasty versus Narendra Modi in India.
The Gandhi/Clinton camps, smug about their lineage, assumed the nation’s leadership was theirs by right.
Muslims and minorities and certain special interests had a central role in the Gandhi/Clinton campaigns in the belief that this line-up can overcome a split majority community.
Modi/Trump and BJP/GOP and anyone who supported them were depicted as deplorable communalists/Islamaphobes and anti-immigrant. And throw in paternalist/sexist for extra effect.
Repeated by voluble sections of the media, the intelligentsia and popular cultural figures, who became the overarching unnuanced message of the Clinton/Gandhi campaign.
This ignored the more general angst of an electorate that was concerned about corruption and economic matters. And they couldn’t all be written off as deplorable communalist or Islamophobic sexists. They just didn’t want the election to be solely about Muslims or immigrants (from Mexico in the US and Bangladeshis through codewords in India).
Modi/Trump also rebelled against their party’s established leadership, which had to fall in line with some exceptions after the elections.
In this mix third personalities emerged: Arvind Kejriwal in India and Bernie Sanders in the US. Both could match the anti-establishment rhetoric of a Modi or a Trump.
Sanders could muscle his way into the Democratic Party and mount a credible challenge to Clinton and force the party to at least acknowledge on paper his economic and social concerns.